Posted October 16, 2006 9:39 am by with 4 comments

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By Ryan Bell

Google AdWords is the heart of many marketing campaigns. Ebooks, legal advice, Amazon products, electronics and ringtones have all been tremendously influenced by AdWords advertising.

But what about Ma & Pa’s Oak Furniture from Montreal? Or Joe investor’s real estate company from Phoenix? Sure, they could benefit from national exposure, but homegrown clients are their bread and butter. Can they benefit from PPC exposure?

At a recent PPC conference in Chicago, I was shocked to discover that many folks would answer ‘No’ to this question. I was especially surprised when these answers came from the marketing directors of firms like Ma & Pa’s, and Joe Investor’s.

“Sure,” they told me, “We could put an ad on AdWords and hope for some new business. But by the time we got one sale within our delivery (or rental) area, we’ve already paid for 500 other clicks from people in places we’ve never even heard of, let alone deliver to.”

This is the part of the conversation where the resident “guru” jumps in with a bunch of noise about geo-targeting. It’s a sad truth: most of the marketers in this situation didn’t know much about it, and when they heard it was as easy as clicking a check box, they looked relieved.

But what I told them next resulted in a pile of business cards being pushed my way, at every round table and lunch session I attended…

The real trick to successful leveraging of local PPC is in the most obvious (yet overlooked place): your keyword list.

For example, let’s say Joe Investor is selling houses in Phoenix. He comes up with some PPC ads to show for the keywords “homes for sale”, “real estate” and “houses for sale”. He sets up his account, and in 5 minutes his ads are up and running. Unfortunately, people in Maryland searching for real estate in D.C. are seeing his ads. They click through, see the desert landscape, and click back out.

Joe investor gets stuck with a huge bill, and no leads to show for it. So he does his homework, reads some “guru” articles on the internet, and learns all about geo-targeting. “Ah-ha,” he thinks, “Now I can cut costs and get relevant leads!”

He runs the ads again, this time with geo-targeting on. A month later, he’s spent next to nothing on clicks to his website. He’s gotten one rotten lead, and traffic is down to nothing.

The real success comes not from relying on a third party search engine to generate traffic using a variable such as geo-targeting, but by avoiding the middle-man, and acquiring our targeted market using the market itself. Here’s how to do it:

Open a new Excel workbook. In column A, starting at row 2, type out all of your keywords/phrases, one to a line. For Joe Investor, it looks like this:

In column B, row 1, put the name of your main city (‘Phoenix‘ in this case). In column C, begin by adding the name of a suburb in your area (in my example, we’d put ‘Scottsdale‘ or ‘Mesa‘) and then put each suburb name in its own column, row 1. Now we have:

Continuing in the next column, begin putting in all the zip-codes in the area you service. That would look like:

Now in cell B2, input the following: =$B$1&” “&A2

This gives you the result:

Drag this formula all the way down to the last row of your original keywords. Do the same for each column in your sheet, replacing the ‘B’ in the equation with each column header (so for ‘Scottsdale‘ the formula would be =$C$1&” “&A2)

In my small example above, I just created over 150 new, locally-targeted keywords from just 7 original keywords. They are all broken up by broad, exact, and phrase match. And it only took my 10 minutes to create them all using Excel.

Why does this work so well? Think about our original problem: using words like “real estate” shows our ads to everyone on earth searching for real estate. But when we turn on geo-targeting, we get very few leads. What I have effectively done, is created 162 individual keywords which target the geographic area we service, without restricting the searchers to just people within that area!

What does that mean? It means that someone looking for a house in Phoenix, isn’t always searching from within Phoenix! So what I’ve done is made it possible for anyone looking for a house in Phoenix to find a house in Phoenix, no matter where they’re searching from, or what word (or zip code) they use to refer to Phoenix.

How can I give away such a valuable secret? A truly talented SEO or SEM doesn’t rely on one secret-method to carry his career. The true talent is creativity and adaptation. I am not afraid of giving this strategy away, because I can invent 15 others to build on it which would turn this great campaign into a huge success.

[The above article is a submission for Marketing Pilgrim’s Search Engine Marketing Scholarship Contest. Each Monday in October, entries will be published and the most popular article of the week will qualify for the $5,000 grand prize. If you’d like to submit an entry, please view the contest entry-requirements and guidelines.]